SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Crisis hotline Caring Contact will offer its next round of training for volunteer listeners beginning Monday, March 21, at the RWJ Rahway Fitness and Wellness Center at 2120 Lamberts Mill Road in Scotch Plains, beginning at 7 p.m. The training program meets once weekly for 13 weeks, including one two-day weekend session.

Training is being offered to new volunteer listeners at Caring Contact, an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline and listening community, providing active listening support and best-in-class training to the Central and Northern New Jersey community.

The cost for the program is $299, with a $100 refund after volunteers have logged 100 hours on the phones. Volunteers are asked to commit to eight hours per month after completing the training. The need for support is dramatic.

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"Every 12.3 minutes someone in the U.S. dies by suicide, including 4,600 young people, and for every one suicide there are 25 attempts," said Arlene Klemow, training director, of Caring Contact. "In addition, nearly one in five Americans suffers from some form of mental illness each year.

"Providing an empathetic ear when someone is in crisis or simply experiencing a down period in their life can make so much of a difference. Our volunteers have a real impact on lives and they are the heart of our operations."

Program participants are trained in Excellence in Listening, including Mental Health First Aid Training and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), both listed on the National Suicide Prevention Registry of Evidence-Based Programs. They develop the ability to listen actively, assess the needs of someone in crisis and provide empathy and support. The program is taught by trainers who are both long-time listeners and nationally certified instructors in Mental Health First Aid and ASIST.

Following 54 hours of classroom instruction, volunteers are first partnered on the call-in lines with experienced listeners before taking calls on their own.

Potential volunteers who may be intimidated by the idea of talking to people in crisis should not be concerned, according to Klemow. Volunteers are well trained for their work, she said.

Colleen Mannix has been volunteering at Caring Contact for about a year. She came to the hotline with a master's degree in counseling and was impressed with the professionalism of the training and how prepared it makes volunteers to take calls.

"I thought it was really comprehensive," Mannix said. "They prepare you for every scenario. It provides an understanding of mental health that is really important for volunteers who don't have a background in counseling. Then you are paired up with a veteran listener so I definitely felt prepared."

Mannix finds volunteering at the hotline very rewarding.

"I feel good," she said. "I just spoke with someone who when he started said he was really down but by the end of the call he said he was feeling better. After a year I'm still really excited to do it."

While Mannix had a background in counseling when she came to the hotline, volunteers come from all backgrounds and age groups and the vast majority have no training in suicide prevention prior to volunteering. Some had their lives touched by suicide in some way but most simply want to help others in need, Klemow said.

Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener Carng Contact and wanting to register for the training should call 908-301-1899 or email Arlene.Klemow@caringcontact.org.

Caring Contact also provides training to members of the public, community groups and businesses in suicide awareness and prevention, active listening, Mental Health First Aid and preventing teenage suicide. Anyone interested in learning more about or scheduling training also should call 908-301-1899.

Caring Contact serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Callers also reach Caring Contact by dialing 908-232-2880. 

Caring Contact is an award-winning, volunteer-staffed caring and crisis hotline providing active listening support and best-in-class education to the Central and Northern New Jersey community. We attentively and compassionately serve those in emotional distress and educate our communities about the power of personal connection. We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the American Association of Suicidology. If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call us at (908) 232-2880. To learn more, visit www.caringcontact.org.